So far, so gloomy. But the leading recruitment agencies are spotting glimmers of hope in some areas. In particular, they see opportunities for newly qualified accountants who are prepared to take temporary appointments rather than seek permanent positions.
Robert Half spotted the trend towards temporary working some time ago, and its rivals report increasing evidence of the development.
'There is a growing demand for contract and temporary staff for the public sector,' said Dulce Merritt, managing director of Reed Accountancy. 'In fact, we predict that this year demand will double in this area.'
This is because changes in the public sector, such as the introduction of National Health Service trusts and self-governing schools, have increased the need for audits. More commercial attitudes in Whitehall are also creating a new need for financial skills.
'More of this work is being channelled towards agencies such as ourselves, as the most cost-effective providers of specialist flexible staff,' Ms Merritt said.
The result is that newly qualified accountants with public sector experience, or audit staff from big six firms who have managed audits where turnover is greater than pounds 200m, are likely to find themselves more popular than they might have thought.
The managing director of Accountancy Options, Robin Rotherham, does not see this demand for temps as limited to the public sector. 'We've seen an upturn in the temporary market and demand for qualified temps in both the commercial and the public sector,' he said. He said companies were likely to remain cautious on recruitment until recovery was well under way.
There is an increasingly widely held view that the Institute of Chartered Accountants qualification is being strongly challenged by those offered by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. And the recruitment agencies' identification of greater demand for commercially trained newly qualifieds lends support to this.
But even here, candidates must remember that employers are being prudent. 'A 'new' job or change of direction is very difficult to achieve in this climate and this should be a major consideration of anyone joining the job market,' said Charles MacLeod, manager of Robert Half's London office.
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